Hiralal Sen

Hiralal Sen and The Early Period of Indian Cinema

Hiralal Sen is considered to be the pioneer of Indian Films. He was also the first movie director of Indian origin. He was a Bengali photographer born in 1866 in Manikgunj, near Dhaka (currently the capital of Bangladesh). Although he was from a Zamindar family, he grew up in Calcutta. In 1898 “Star Theater” in Calcutta hosted a bioscopic show of “The Flower of Persia” – a short film by Mr. Stevenson. Hiralal borrowed the camera from Mr. Stevenson and made his first film – “A dancing scene“.

Hiralal Sen was extremely enthusiastic about motion pictures. He learned a lot about film projections, understood the mechanics, made some machinery indigenously. His brother Matilal Sen assisted him in his journey with cinema. They bought “Urban Bioscope” from Charles Urban’s Warwick Trading Company in London. Next year, in 1898, he formed “The Royal Bioscope Company” with his brother.

In his creative years up to 1913, Hiralal Sen made over 40 silent films. In first two years after the formation of “The Royal Bioscope Company” he was mainly screening films in and out of Calcutta. He was inspired to make films by Amarendra Dutta (of Classic Theater in Calcutta), Father Lafont and many others. Most of his films were shot from the plays at Classic Theater in Calcutta. Between 1901 and 1905 he produced films from famous plays like “Bhramar”, “Alibaba”, “Hariraj”, “Dol Lila”, “Sitaram”, “Sarala” and more.

He also made many short films in following years. His longest film was produced in 1903 named “Alibaba and Forty Thieves“. He also produced many advertising films and news films. He was also probably the first Indian to produce Ad-films. He reportedly produced ad-films about “Jabakusum Hair Oil” and “Edwards Tonic“.

The Royal Bioscope made its last film in the year of 1913. Hiralal Sen went through economic hardship in his late years. Jamshedji Framji Madan of the Elphinstone Bioscope Company had a overpowering success in film business during that time. There was virtually no competition against Madan.

Hiralal Sen was also suffering from cancer. To add to his misery, a few days before his death in 1917, a fire broke out destroying every film he ever made. It was a great loss that the early history and products of Indian cinema were lost and can never be recovered.

Short List of Movies Made by Hiralal Sen as Director/Co-director:

  • # Hindu Bathing Festival at Allahabad (1913)
  • # Arrival at Howrah (1912)
  • # Grand Delhi Coronation Durbar and Royal Visit to Calcutta Including Their Majesties’ Arrival at Amphitheatre (1912)
  • # Princep’s Ghat (1912)
  • # Procession (1912)
  • # Visit to Bombay and Exhibition (1912)
  • # Tilak Bathing at the Ganges (1906)
  • # The Bengal Partition Film (1905)
  • # Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (1903)
  • # Coronation Ceremony and Durbar (1903)
  • # Dances from ‘Alibaba’ (1903)
  • # Dances from Alibara, Moner Mantan, Sonar Swapan (1903)
  • # Indian Life and Scenes (1903)
  • # Scenes from ‘Maner Matan’ (1903)
  • # Scenes from ‘Sonar Swapan’ (1903)
  • # Scenes from ‘Alibaba’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from ‘Bhramar’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from ‘Buddhadev’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from ‘Dol Leela’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from ‘Hariraj’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from ‘Sarala’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from ‘Seetaram’ (1901)
  • # Scenes from the Plays Vramar, Alibaba, Hariraj, Dole Laila, Budda, Sitaram (1901)
  • # Moving Pictures of Natural Scenes and Religious Rituals (1899)
  • # Dancing Scenes from ‘The Flower of Persia’ (1898) (co-director)

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